Thursday, September 03, 2015

Aylan Kurdi - Lest We Forget

"I wished there was no problem in their country, that they hadn’t left it and hadn't tried to leave Turkey and that I hadn’t taken this photograph, But as I found them dead, all I could do was take these pictures to be their voice." - Nilufer Demir, photographer, Bodrum Turkey, September 2 2015
 
"But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again" - from "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", Eric Bogle 1971

The beaches of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) are etched in the collective memory of many older Australians. Every year on the 25th April Australians celebrate "Anzac Day" - the anniversary of a battle that  is believed by some to represent the birth of our nation.   In 1915 8,000 Australians died on the beaches of the Turkish peninsular of Gallipoli -  men and boys of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs),  in  their first ever campaign. The first time we made world news as a nation separate from England.

Most of us older Australians  have seen the movie "Gallipoli" -  which was also part of the marking and making of our nation. Released in 1981 by Australian director Peter Weir, it helped put the Australian film industry on the map. A film about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War and who are sent to fight the Turks on the peninsula of Gallipoli. Sent to die.

Australian expats are moved almost to the tears when hearing Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda",  a song which describes war as futile and gruesome. War seen through the eyes of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli.

Was it the fact that the dead child in the photo was washed up on a Turkish beach that got to me yesterday? Beyond tears. Was it the association with the memories of the young Australian soldiers  running from the Turkish beach to their deaths one hundred years ago that sickened me so?

Or was it because of the way he was lying. As the CNN reporter put it, "face down, his head to one side with his bottom slightly up -- the way toddlers like to sleep"? My children slept like that.

Or what he was wearing, his red top and blue shorts and little shoes with Velcro straps? That I could imagine his mother dressing him in that morning? Too close, too personal.

"This picture is so desperately sad", posted a friend on Facebook. I could bear it no more. I closed the iPad, turned off the TV, and  slept the sleep of the dead.

I awoke today with that feeling you get when you know that something is wrong. In between sleep and full consciousness - usually it's something like how the dishwasher is broken; or that I lost my iPhone the day before. Something trivial, but something that tells you that today is not just another day.

I don't normally wake up with that "what's wrong" feeling related to world events. Even when George W as elected way back when, I woke up as per normal. The Chile earthquake. The bushfires. The Japanese tsunami. World events don't overly affect me. At my age I'm a seasoned traveler of  life.

Last time I woke up with a feeling of something being wrong -  a something that wasn't affecting my personal life - was on 12th September 2001. The day after 9/11.

Today I woke up with that feeling. That something-is-wrong-in the-state-of-Denmark feeling. And it wasn't  about something personal. What had changed?

As consciousness dawned I remembered. The toddler on the Turkish beach.

I know that children die every day. Of disease and starvation,  from war, by infanticide. But this one did me in. Has done me in. Little Aylan Kurdi, whose family had fled through three countries in search of safety.

Fleeing ISIS. What parents wouldn't?

As we say at the dawn service on ANZAC Day in Australia, remembering the young men who died on another Turkish beach," Lest We Forget".

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fragments - Handle With Care

"I close my eyes in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents. Against my will - or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore? - I remember." - from "The Nightingale", Kristin Hannah

 Today : "You have a third of your life left according to one of the sound bites describing Renata Singer's new book, "Older and Bolder: Life after 60". Thirty years, but I've already used up nearly a third of what's left! I do a little bit of arithmetic.

The Seventies - According to Bloomingdale's
A third of a third... I don't want to know. But I must read the book. And I wonder what Renata Singer sounds like - because like me - she is an Australian New Yorker.

I  google to an ABC Australia podcast, to listen to Renata Singer being interviewed. I knew here two-thirds of a life ago. She is as inspiring now as she was back then. All those years ago.

But what's with the photo gracing the podcast's webpage? A grey and white photo of drab grey and white old women, unstylishly dressed. At odds with what I expect of the book. Old women looking not bold. And very very old.

Still, I feel emboldened. And I haven't even started the book. Watch out folks!

Yesterday: On a bus. All the seats are front-facing. About three rows behind me I can hear a young woman, voice slightly raised. A clear voice. A young healthy voice. 

Dog Days on Sixtieth
I assume she is talking on her cell phone. But her voice gets louder and I turn to look behind me.

She's about 28, dark hair, attractive. Millenial-dressed. I avert my eyes and go back to staring straight ahead like all the other commuters. I can hear her clearly now. As can everyone else.

Like all New Yorkers we are doing our best to remain detached, at least outwardly.

"I can feel you thinking about me." She is almost yelling now. "I can feel your eyes. Your eyes are touching me. I hate their touch. Touching touching."

At a bus stop a woman gets on and stares. She is looking uncomfortable as she looks around at us, all of us New Yorkers, all looking straight ahead as if nothing is happening.

I feel we should do something. "Reach out," as they say. But I'm not going there.

I can hear the young woman. Yelling now.

"I feel like getting my hands around your throats," she's saying. "I want to squeeze hard around your necks and watch your heads turn yellow and green. I want to see your heads, your heads, your heads pop off!"

The sensitive woman who got on one stop earlier looks behind her, hesitates, and then gets of the bus at the next stop.

I am thinking about people in movie theaters in America getting shot. What are we meant to do when someone is clearly unhinged?  Did anyone tell us? Do I remember? I think of telling the bus driver. I'm getting nervous.

Then I remember; I'm in New York - we don't do guns here - well not on buses anyway. All those mass shootings were somewhere else. Someone else's problem. I relax. Visibly.

When the bus stops at my destination on Sixtieth, I get off. I don't even remember enough about the young woman to even look back.

Last week: You never stop being a mother. And your children never stop being your children.

In my head I am stuck at being twenty seven years old. Not unusual I have been told.

But my children? In my head they are stuck at being three. The age of questions.

And it is my duty and instinct to answer those questions. With answers that assume that my children, my eternal three year-old children, actually need me to explain, even the obvious.

Take at this little bubble of text convo for example.

What was I thinking? That my over forty year old daughter - herself a mother of a four year old - didn't know the basic workings of of the human digestive system?

Geez mum, indeed!

Stay tuned.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

When I Saw Him Standing There

Well, he walked up to me
And he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice
And so I said, "I might take a chance" - 'Then He Kissed Me', The Crystals 1963

I only know when he
Began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced,
All night! - 'My Fair Lady', 1956


Dummy in NYC Haberdashery
A hundred years ago a dancer from the Bolshoi Ballet asked me to dance. This is a true story.

I can't remember how I managed to walk to the dance floor, or what sort of dancing it was. I don't remember the music either. I do know it was in Melbourne during the Cold War and that I had been dragged along to a social function put on by the Australian Russian Friendship Society.

He told me his name was Sasha. We didn't speak much. We gazed into each others' eyes. He had a lovely smile, a half smile. I remember thinking of the mambo scene in "West Side Story".

Perhaps we didn't even dance. Perhaps we just stood still, looking at each other. I can't remember. I do remember that  we tried to work out a rendezvous, but what with my shyness, his limited English, and the restrictions imposed upon him by his KCB minders, we didn't get anywhere

I was star-struck for at least two nights and then, being young and carefree, all  thoughts of Sasha faded. My memory of him now is of a young Count Vronsky look-alike -  dressed in black and white,  handsome against a monochrome Soviet background - a memory influenced no doubt by the many experiences I have both enjoyed and suffered in the intervening years between then and now.

I thought of Sasha last week when I looking into the ice-cream freezer display at the Keyfood supermarket on Second Avenue in New York.

An elderly gentleman - a fellow shopper - was trying to get my attention. Why did I think so suddenly of Sasha? I hadn't thought about him for years.

Perhaps there was something about the black-and-whiteness of the fellow, the hesitation, the half-smile.

I turned away from the shelves of  tubs of Edy's ice-cream to ask him what he wanted. "Can I borrow your coupons?" he said, pointing to the leaflet of coupons at the bottom of my shopping basket.

Around us streamed the afternoon throng of elderly New Yorkers. The 3:00 pm crowd. Getting in before the rush and crush of the millenials. War-weary ex-peaceniks, the beaten-up beats of generation 1950. Aisle after supermarket aisle of elderly men and women.
New Theatre Review Melbourne 1942

Did Mr. Coupon think I was one of them? I tried to look young. Well younger. "I'm not there yet",  I was thinking. Soon yes. But not yet. I am only old, not elderly. There's a difference!

You can HAVE the coupons, I told him. I didn't explain, but printed coupons aren't necessary. The cashiers ring up the sale price in any case -  the coupons being more an advertising gimmick, placed indiscriminately by supermarket staff into the  shopping baskets, aiming to fool people into buying things they don't need; tricking them into thinking that they are getting a bargain.

I went back to surveying the freezer shelves, trying to choose between the slow-churned vanilla and the cookie dough flavor. Maybe two tubs of one, or one of each ...

He was still standing there. Like the girl in the Beatles song. "Oh why did I think of another?"

I'll tell you why. It was 1964 and I was dancing with Sasha in gloomy old Melbourne-town during the Cold War. I was the rescuer of a  possible defector to the Free World. We were going to try to meet somewhere on St Kilda Road. But then the music died. The night the music died...

The supermarket was playing our song. I jolted back to reality. The coupon man was still there. Standing. Just.

"You should buy one of these Edy ice-creams," I told him. "They are two for the price of one."

He said he didn't trust the supermarket. If he didn't have a coupon, then how did he know it was true?

By now the tubs of ice-cream were starting to melt. "Like my heart when Sasha asked me to dance," I mused.

Sasha. I had tried to look him up. Tried to get a playbook of the ballet. But of course his real name was not Sasha, Sasha being a diminutive of Alexander.

Reality girl! Elderly man. Coupons 2015. New York. Not Melbourne. Summer, not Soviet.

I closed the door to the freezer. "Look," I said. "There is the notice on the door. Two Edy's icecreams for the price of one." He peered through myopic eyes. And smiled. A sort of half smile. Hesitant. A wary-of-the-KGB sort of smile. I half-smiled in return.

And hurried away, not looking back. So as not to to see if my Sasha was using a walker.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What was Violet's Middle Name?

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be -  Working Class Hero, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, 1970

Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today - "Yes! We Have No Bananas", Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, 1922

Best friends, Australia, When we were young
I am opening up a new online bank account. I'm trying to set up my security questions and answers. I've been here before. I dread going there.

I live in a country where it is very important to be politically correct. Socially, racially correct. But apparently this meme or whatever, does not apply to "security questions".

And yes, I realise that such questions are only there in case you forget who you are, or what is your password - but it is not as simple as that.

The assumption is that you had a conventional childhood. White. Affluent. Two parents and 2.2 children, of which you are one of them. One of the whole number, born ones.

It is all worked out here in the U.S.A.  If you are not statistically normal, help is on the way. You can even get extra points in order to get into college (aka university in OZ).

But when it comes to opening a bank account, a 401K, a Roth IRA - even a social media account - the un-politically, un-socio-economical questions come pouring in.

There's normally a list of set questions you can provide answers to - in case you forget who you are. I speed-read it. But unless there's something simple, like "Your father's middle name", I am at a loss.

 I was raised by a single mother. I lived in a country that didn't use the term "middle school". I know I had a paternal grand father, but I only saw him once and I was six at the time.

He never told me his middle name.

I had a dog but I can't remember his name. Probably he was"Blacky",  but maybe the five year-old me spelled it with an "ie".

We moved house 27 times before I was 14. So I have no effing idea the name of my home teacher when I was in "middle school".

My dad had three wives and I don't know the middle name of any of them. Including my mother's.' Well, I do with my mum, but the "authorities" kept getting it wrong, and I keep forgetting the "wrong one" that  I am meant to remember.

When my mother, a country girl eleven years old, came to Melbourne from the tiny New South Wales town of Moama in 1930, the teacher at Princes Hill Primary school got her name wrong, and the young country girl  was too overwhelmed to correct her when she read her given names out of order.

My mother's name was "Christine Hazel", but she was registered as "Hazel Christina" at Princes Hill. So what IS my mother's middle name? I dare not get it wrong or my bank account will be locked. My mum  - Born Christine, married as Hazel, Divorced as Christina. Died Christine. I skip that question.

My best childhood best friend?  I think of Di - in the UK now. We were  best friends  -  still are  - for yonks. Will be forever. We lived near each other in the early sixties. In Melbourne. But maybe it should be Kathy Brettel. I was best friends with her in third grade in Bathurst New South Wales in 1959.  Never heard from her again. But she was "first". Or Carolyn who lived round the corner when we were both fourteen and I still stay with in Australia when I visit. We are as sisters.

And what do they mean by "childhood"? Too confusing.

The Missing
I skip that question. Here's one - "Who was your favorite comic book hero?" There's the rub. My dad didn't allow comic books in the house. He was left-wing till Stalin invaded Czechoslovakia. I really don't want to bring the Cold War and McCarthy into a supposedly simple account security system check.

What was my nick name as a child?  Closer. "Katie" or maybe "Katy". I should make a note of the spelling in my password-keeper.

Oh, and I LOVE this one - "What street did you live in when you were nine?" I think back to the fifties. The various rooms and half houses that my single mother, Hazel, Chris, Christina ... whatever,  found for us. Beats me. I am not even sure of the state.

I go on. "Your favorite  uncle?" Well we all us women know about favorite uncles. I am not even going there! It is all getting too close to home.

Till next time,

Kath, Katy, Katie, Kathleen... Chris's daughter, Hazel's daughter, Violet whoever's granddaughter,

Kate.